There are many, many levels of creepy to the Gululu water bottle recently released via Amazon. Gululu is a water bottle with a built-in smart device that uses WiFi to connect your child to an in-app virtual pal that grows as your child drinks from the bottle. Think: Alice in Wonderland meets George Orwell at $129 a pop. That’s right, over a hundred bucks for a child’s water bottle. $89 if you were one of the crowdsourced funders on Kickstarter. Wait a minute; this thing was crowd-funded? Who am I to possibly contradict the whims of a crowd with money?
I mean, who wouldn’t want their kid carrying around a device with an open WiFi connection? Now, thanks to the Gululu app, parents can track their child’s drinking habits and compare them with others. They can also have the app set hydration goals for their child by entering a few simple pieces of personal data on their child, most likely things like height and weight, stats normally protected by HIPAA privacy laws. Another bonus to the app? Parents can “monitor children’s social graph to ensure safe social networking.” (Hint: Buy a bottle for a friend! Or, maybe that rotten kid down the block who you don’t want anywhere near your perfectly managed child.)
It isn’t like your kid will have much time for socialization in the real world, anyway. He’ll be too busy playing with his virtual bottle friend bother interacting with other kids. Keep in mind, water bottle friends are important stuff! Take, for instance, Ninji. Not only does Ninji encourage your child to keep drinking, he also “stands up for justice” and needs your child to “help him fulfill his dreams.” And lest you think your child is just goofing off with the video game implanted into his water bottle, rest assured this is “educational game content” we’re talking about here. The manufacturer says so and updates it automatically!
Drinking water is essential to life on this planet. Which is precisely why using technology to motivate your child to take a drink is harmful in the long term. Forget all of the psychology that warns against bribing your child, rewarding him for completing an everyday task, or spoiling him. We already have college kids clinging to safe spaces and high schoolers believing we should limit free speech rights to protect against “offensive” speech. Why not let elementary school kids think they should be coddled into taking a simple drink of water?
I also wonder if the manufacturers of Gululu put in a fail-safe to ensure that kids don’t wind up drinking too much water. While rare, hyponatremia, a condition whereby your kidneys are unable to excrete excess water resulting in low levels of electrolytes and sodium in the blood, can be life-threatening. Given the current marketplace’s obsession with low-sodium diets, a game encouraging kids to drink more and more water could unintentionally land a child in the hospital.
Then again, if the bottle does sense the kid has drunk way too much for the day, it’s probably only because the kid is smart enough to just pour water in and dump it out to win the game faster. That’s the awesome thing about kids; they see through gimmicks quicker than most parents do. They also have the tendency to drink thanks to a natural motivation called thirst and feel rewarded by fulfilling a biological urge, all for free and without WiFi. Imagine that!